Increase in UK women being investigated by police for illegal abortions

More Britons are being investigated by police over suspected illegal abortions, new figures show.

The latest Home Office data shows that recorded crimes for abortion have risen from 28 in 2020 to 40 in 2021, up from just eight cases in 2012.

Although the data does not provide a gender breakdown of the accused, experts fear there is an “uptrend” in vulnerable women facing criminal investigations.

Jonathon Lord, medical director of MSI Reproductive Choices, one of the UK’s leading abortion providers, warned that the situation was “very worrying and appalling”.

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The latest government data includes recorded crimes for the three separate counts of obtaining an illegal abortion, willfully destroying a viable unborn child and concealing an infant’s death before birth. The first two counts carry life imprisonment, while the latter carries a three-year prison sentence.

dr Lord, the co-chair of the British Society of Abortion Care Providers, noted that the first of these charges dates back to 1861, while the second was created in 1929 and the third also dates from 1861.

He added: “These archaic laws are totally inappropriate and we demand that they be repealed and that abortion treatment, like any other medical treatment, be governed by health regulations. Abortion is unique in that it is criminalized.”

Some of the cases included in the government data could relate to investigations into abusive partners forcing a woman to have an abortion.

But dr Lord said: “We fear that most of the cases will involve investigations against women. It seems to be an upward trend. It’s very disturbing and frightening.

“Women face the cruelty and hardship of being screened after pregnancy loss or termination, and often wait years to be charged and brought to justice.”

dr Lord, a consultant gynaecologist at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, said the increasing number of screenings is an “unfortunate” by-product of “more and more women choosing medical abortions” – the warning it meant “has suspicion at Prosecutors and the police have been approached”.

A medical abortion involves taking two pills, while a surgical abortion involves a medical procedure performed under general or local anesthesia.

Before the pandemic, obtaining the first abortion pill, mifepristone, required a visit to an abortion clinic. However, due to Covid restrictions, the government allowed the medicines to be sent by post and taken home after a telephone consultation, a system it has dubbed ‘telemedicine’. While abortions are safe, it is better to have the procedure earlier in the pregnancy.

Government data shows that 14 percent of abortions in 2002 were medical, while 87 percent of abortions in 2021 were medically induced.

dr Lord noted that as awareness of medical abortions increased, pregnancy losses were treated with increasing suspicion, acknowledging that someone might have been able to perform an abortion themselves.

He added: “The law was originally created before medical abortion existed. It was there to protect women from backyard surgical abortions, which will always be unsafe, while medical abortions are obviously safe.

“The same law still applies. Medical abortion at any stage of pregnancy is usually safe.”

dr Lord urged healthcare professionals not to report women they suspect of having illegal abortions to the police – warning that this violates confidentiality agreements between patients and doctors and damages women’s trust in doctors.

He believes that the proliferation of investigations in recent years has been “fueled” by “anti-abortionists” being “so vehemently anti-abortion at home.”

dr Lord added: “The authorities’ first thought, if there is an unusual stillbirth that could well have happened quite naturally, might have been caused by abortion pills.

“It has a frightening effect on how willing patients are to seek medical care and how much they can trust medical teams. They then think confidential information could be used against them and passed on to the police.”

dr Lord said the health sector is “very clear” in its position that reporting women suspected of having an unregulated abortion to the police is never in the public interest.

He called for the immediate repeal of abortion laws in Britain and “the recognition of those convicted as victims and the overturning of their convictions”.

Abortion is still considered a criminal offense in England, Scotland and Wales under the Abortion Act 1967 and any woman who terminates a pregnancy without obtaining the legal permission of two doctors must consent to the continuation of the pregnancy for physical or mental reasons The woman’s health would be at risk. He faces life imprisonment. Medical professionals who perform an abortion outside of the law can be prosecuted.

Katherine O’Brien of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) commented on the numbers The Independent that the introduction of early medical home abortions had increased some people’s suspicions.

She noted that while public awareness of the fact that abortion law is criminalized is still fairly low, over the past decade there has been greater recognition of how the law works, in part due to the BPAS campaigns to repeal the law.

Ms O’Brien added: “This gets through to those who want women to be prosecuted. We see police contacting BPAS for client records and going on fishing expeditions when they have no evidence of wrongdoing. They try to find this evidence on suspicion rather than on fact.

“I would like to stress that this is an upward trend in vulnerable women who face lengthy criminal investigations and unless the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Parliamentarians do something this will only get worse and more women will be confronted with criminalization and prosecution.” investigations.”

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) recently released a statement calling on the UK government to decriminalize abortion.

It comes after The Independent A woman was reportedly held in police custody for 36 hours following a stillbirth on the suspicion she might have had an abortion after the legal deadline.

British abortion providers who supported the woman denied she flouted the legal time limit and warned that the treatment she endured “should be unthinkable in a civilized society” with no “conceivable” public interest in detaining her.

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court overturned Deer vs Wade — the landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 — in late June. Millions of women in America have lost their legal right to an abortion as a result.

Representatives from NHS England and the National Police Chiefs Council have been asked to comment.

A CPS spokesman said: “The decision to terminate one’s pregnancy is not a decision taken lightly. Those who do are often vulnerable, need support and some may have mental health issues.

“Our prosecutors consider all of these factors when making extremely difficult decisions, according to our legal review.

“The role of the CPS is to ensure that the law created by Parliament is properly considered and applied in every single case that is referred to us.” Increase in UK women being investigated by police for illegal abortions

Dais Johnston

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